Even with Ryan Fitzpatrick being the most seasoned and highest-paid quarterback on Washington's roster, the starting job to begin the 2021 regular season isn't locked up for the bearded veteran. As he signed his one-year deal with the club earlier this offseason, the only thing that was guaranteed to Fitzpatrick was that he'd be the club's starter when the team opened camp. From that point on, it's an open competition where any one of Washington's quarterbacks has a chance to ascend atop the depth chart.
"It's going to be a good competition," head coach Ron Rivera told reporters Thursday while highlighting that QB1 is still up for grabs, via ESPN.com. "I look forward to it. It's going to push our football team and make our football team better. I just feel that going into this knowing we have a proven guy there that has the ability to lead us, but again, we have a guy in Taylor that shows us he can do it. They are going to compete, they are going to push, and I'm looking forward to it."
This approach by Rivera stems from an admitted miscue he endured last summer where he gave then second-year quarterback Dwayne Haskins all of the starting reps, which put the club in a hole when it came to bear that the former first-rounder wasn't going to cut it. Despite going through camp under more unique circumstances due to the COVID-19 pandemic last year, Rivera regrets not opening things up a bit more.
"The mistake I made was that my approach was wrong," Rivera said. "I should have made as big a competition as possible, and that's on me. I wanted to try and find a guy. I thought [Haskins] was ready to take a step and take every opportunity. I try to build that rapport he needed with his teammates, and that would have been something we may have been able to see sooner and could have done something different, perhaps."
With that lesson now learned, Rivera is taking on the approach that he wished he deployed an offseason ago. While Fitzpatrick will seemingly have the inside track to win the job, Heinicke, in particular, shouldn't be ruled out of this race, either. The 28-year-old impressed during Washington's playoff loss to the Buccaneers on Super Wild Card Weekend and that performance was the catalyst for the club to sign him to a two-year extension back in February. If Fitzpatrick doesn't come out of the gate hot over these next few months and Heinicke impresses, there's a very real shot he could leap up to become Washington's starter. Again, the jury is still out as to whether or not that will actually happen but it sounds like Rivera is open to any sort of possibility of shaking out at the position so long as it gives the club the best chance to succeed in 2021.
One notable advantage that Rivera will have during this evaluation process for QB1 that he didn't have a year ago is the preseason. Over that three-game stretch, it will be curious to see if any one of these quarterbacks creates enough distance to lock in the starting job.